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Why it’s wrong to coach your young players to keep their head up - by David Lowe

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When I first started coaching one of my main focuses was to try and create a team that looks up and passes the ball. I was working with an under 10 team and at every training session I was always emphasizing the need to keep your head up and pass out of trouble. I WAS WRONG and if this scenario sounds familiar to your own situation then you are wrong too.
Don’t feel bad about it, it is a common mistake to make. You hear it so often from coaches and parents, it was probably one of the first things that was drilled into you when you first started getting coached as a child, but just stick with me and I will explain why I feel that my own training methods were letting my team down.
First of all we need to look at why the players keep their head down. Quite simply it is because they are not comfortable with the ball at their feet yet.
Players automatically become better players if the focus is not on the ball at their feet. Once players become comfortable with the ball at their feet, their heads will automatically start to come up.
Sometimes coaches are guilty of getting their young players to pass the ball and look up before they are comfortable on the ball. This can and does result in players that are scared of receiving the ball in fear of miss-controlling it or making a mistake. This normally results in players in defensive positions just kicking the ball up field or out of play whenever the opposition gets close to putting them under pressure (more worrying is the fact that most players will get applauded for taking such drastic measures).
So what can we do to prevent this? In the development stage aged 5-11 it is important to develop the players ball control. During mini games and drills players of this age can be selfish with the ball and try to keep it to themselves rather than passing to a team mate, this is fine, in fact this is good. The more comfortable the player is with the ball the better the player they will become as they develop.
Below I have a set of drills that will help encourage ball retention in young players. The whole idea is to stress the players and put them in uncomfortable positions, so that they learn to feel comfortable with no support.
Now a few things that we have got to bare in mind.
1.They are not robots, if we are to develop better standards of football then we must continuously build on these drills and ethics. Having 1 or 2 training sessions working on this and then expecting your players to be better in possession is not going to happen. Be patient.
2.Make sure the players know the reasons behind any drills you assign them, use real life situations if possible and try to instill a strong point acceptance within your group that they should have the confidence to take control of a situation and not just panic and kick the ball out.
3.Remember these drills demand that the player stays on the ball as much as possible and only releases the ball when absolutely necessary.
Drill 1
This is a simple warm up that starts the session off with the emphasis on possession. Split the players into 2 groups. 1 group starts with a ball each and the other group must try to take the ball off them within an allotted time. Encourage the players trying to gain possession to try to take the ball rather than just kicking it out of play.
Drill 2
In this drill you have a 1v1 situation in the area with a supporting player for both players.
The idea is to hold onto possession for as long as possible and only use the support player if it is absolutely necessary. Once the player makes the pass to the supporting player they must swap roles. If the player loses the possession they must then try to retrieve the ball back from the other team while they then try to hold on to possession.
Drill 3
This drill progresses on from the last drill. In this scenario the supporting player must make it as hard as possible for his team mate to make the pass by constantly moving around the area. This will force the player in possession to keep hold of the ball or do something special to make the pass.
Drill 4
Moving on from the last drill this drill brings the supporting player into action. Once again the player in the middle must try to hold onto the ball for as long as possible. Once they play a ball to their team mate they can then join them in the area to make a 2v1 situation. If they lose possession the player that last touched the ball must retreat outside the area. Don’t turn it into 2v1 passing, only pass when they are in trouble or going to lose the ball. If the attack breaks down restart again with 2 in the middle.
Drill 5
In this final drill add 2 end zones to the area and split them into 2 boxes. Create a 2v2 in the area with a support player for each team into the end zones. The team with possession dictate the end zones, so if the reds are in possession the red player in the end zone must decide which square is the best position for support and move over to that square. The player from the blue team must move into the square vacated by the red player.
Is this style of play risky? Sure! Are these drills designed to take the players out of their comfort zone? Absolutely. Will the players benefit in the long run by concentrating on ball control at an early stage of their development? Yes.
Putting stress on your players in training and asking them to play the same on match day is risky, difficult and a long term process, but if we want to create a nation of footballers that are comfortable on the ball and able to cope in pressure situations then we as coaches have to hold our own nerve because it’s one thing covering it in training but it’s a different thing all together not to lose our own discipline on match day. You must portray a strong belief in your players and their ability to achieve their targets.
Have you been caught out by this trap? Are you guilty of instilling panic into your players every time an opposition player gets near them? Am I wrong with my beliefs? 
About the Author:
David Lowe is the founder of Grassroots Interactive Coaching and keen amateur coach. He has a passion for improving grassroots football and modernizing the services available for coaches. For more articles his blog is available at http://grassrootsbuddy.com/blog/ 

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